Emma Simmonds reports back following her ten colourful days spent in the presence of the world’s weirdest, wildest, most wonderful animation.
What kind of cinema-going experience begins with an impossibly rotund gentleman emerging from a gigantic snail shell to find that he is on the menu, and ends with a body-popping, limb-lengthening, yet philosophical examination of human movement? These two extraordinary shorts are from just one competition screening at the 7th London International Animation Festival. The films in question are The Bellies (the work of Philippe Grammaticopoulos) and Orgesticulanismus (Mathieu Labaye), and along with their fellow contenders they represent the pinnacle of modern animation.
Goodbye Mister Christie by Phil Mulloy
LIAF, now in its 7th year, is a one-of-a-kind celebration of the diversity and ingenuity of animation, on a truly global scale. The animations showcased range from multi-participant collaborations to the festival’s only feature film, Goodbye Mister Christie; created, remarkably, by one man – animation legend Phil Mulloy. Events included; discussion forums, animator talks, practical demonstrations and even a celebration of the iconic kitty, Felix the Cat. During the competitive programmes audience members are encouraged to vote, ranking their top three shorts of each jam-packed session. The technique focus of this year’s festival is scratch, or ‘direct-to-film’ animation and, thus, master of the craft Steven Woloshen makes an apposite guest/masterclass mentor; with a retrospective of his work also featured. This year LIAF takes place across four venues; primarily at The Renoir and Horse Hospital in Bloomsbury, with the Rio and HMV Curzon Wimbledon in support.
Angry Man (Sinna Mann Boj) by Anita Kill
The festival kicked-off on Friday 27th at The Horse Hospital with a look at animated documentaries under the tagline, “What happens when the real meets the unreal?” Saturday’s line-up included an Animate TV retrospective with a lively panel consisting of: Gary Thomas, the co-director of Animate Projects; animators Osbert Parker (Yours Truly) and Chris Shepherd (Who I Am and What I Want); and former commissioner of animation at Channel 4 Clare Kitson. They discussed the phenomenal, liberating impact Animate Projects has had on the UK animation industry over the past twenty years, and the session included a rather pensive consideration of how the art of animation will fare in these savagely austere, arts-averse times.
Monday’s terrific ‘Opening Night at the Renoir’ comprised a tantalising taster of the treats to come and a screening of Phil Mulloy’s first feature, Goodbye Mister Christie. This lone endeavour, made on-the-hoof, features computerised voices rather than actors. It’s the hilariously surreal story of a curmudgeonly gent – the titular Mister Christie – who is catapulted reluctantly into the limelight after he is filmed having sex with a nefarious French sailor. It is a triumph of devastating simple visuals and broad, bawdy humour, delivered somewhat ironically by the emotionless automaton voices. Phil joined festival director Nag Vladermersky in conversation after the event and is as affable and idiosyncratic a speaker as one could hope for.
Zbigniev’s Cupboard by Magdalena Osinka
The competitive programme of shorts opened on Tuesday with Animate Projects’ Tad’s Nest, a film by British animator Petra Freeman. Painted on glass and recorded with a digital stills camera, Petra used a computer to collect the images and edit the film. In this fluid, delicate piece she examines the way memories are held as sensations. Another notable, crowd-pleasing British short in competition is A Family Portrait, Joseph Pierce’s rotoscope animation (a process which involves tracing over live-action film movement). It’s a darkly hilarious tale featuring Sarah McVicar and Robert Bathurst in which a middle-class family’s secrets and lies are brought horribly to the fore. Pierce’s short was the eventual judges’ winner of Best British Film. Winner of the festival’s audience award for Saturday 4th’s British Showcase session was the sombre Zbigniev’s Cupboard (Magdalena Osinka), a tender, textural stop-frame animation set in Communist Poland. On a more cheerful note, established UK artist and animator David Shrigley’s contribution to the festival’s line-up was the wonderful Pringle of Scotland, a characteristically irreverent, DayGlo, jumpers promo.
Crocodile by Kaspar Jancis
Many animators accompany their films at the festival, including the memorably eccentric Estonian animator Kaspar Jancis, who introduced and discussed his film Crocodile, which turned-out to be another audience favourite. Other short films which went down a treat with the punters included the outrageous French dystopian farce The Man in the Blue Gordini (Jean-Christophe Lie) and the cheeky, absurdist scratch animation Dialogues (Ulo Pikkov).
The festival culminated with a triumphant “Best of the Fest” session on Sunday 5th, where a selection of the audience and judges’ favourites are screened and the results of the week’s voting announced (it’s such a popular event that it’s repeated immediately afterwards). The winner of Best Film is Angry Man, Norwegian animator Anita Kill’s sensitive, tragically beautiful 20-minute film about domestic violence, told from the perspective of a young child. Based on a book by Gro Dahle and Svein Nyhus, it was made using the process of filming cut-outs with a traditional (and apparently completely knackered) 35mm camera. Angry Man’s success – both in the eyes of the judges and audience – is testament to the power of its storytelling and the painstakingly protracted exertions of Anita et al. It is a fitting example of how animation can be applied imaginatively to address serious issues and is a worthy recipient of this fine festival’s top honour. And, with that decision made, the festival draws to a close. Its outstanding programme of events and expert execution has proved the ideal platform for a plethora of animated delights, so roll on LIAF 2011.